Statue Garden

Sarena Ulibarri

“He’s still out there,” Lisa said.

She stood at her office window, the blinds pulled open with a finger.

“Do you have the report done yet? Boss is asking for it.”

“This man, he’s just standing there. Have you seen this?” She moved aside and her co-worker looked out.

“That’s just Tony, from Accounting.”

Tony, from Accounting, if that’s who he was, hadn’t moved for three hours. He stood between two cars in the parking lot, still as a statue. Lisa noticed him when she glanced out the window on her morning break. Now here it was, after lunch, and he was still there.

“Have you seen this man outside?”

She was in someone else’s office now, peering out a different window.

“I don’t really have time to chat,” her co-worker said.

Lisa watched the man’s stillness. He remained solid and motionless while the wind flipped his tie over his shoulder and tossed the edges of his suit coat around.

“He’s been there all day.”

Her co-worker glanced out the window.

“Nice suit.”

He was still there at five, and Lisa hung back in her office, watching everyone file out and get in their cars. None of them approached the stationary man. None of them even gave him a second glance. The cars on either side of him left. The parking lot was nearly empty, and there he stood, alone, immobile.

Lisa put her briefcase in her car and walked over to him. He might be a mannequin or sculpture, some poorly placed public art project. She approached slowly, as if he were a wild animal she would scare away. He had dark hair and olive skin, and was dressed for work. His brown eyes stared lifeless at the pavement in front of him.

She touched his arm and felt the give of flesh beneath the suit sleeve. His chest didn’t move but his nostrils gave the subtlest exhale of breath. His hand, which gripped the handle of a briefcase, felt warm to the touch, but refused to release its grip.

It was not the logical thing to do, but Lisa had never been the most logical person. She pulled her car over to him, opened the hatch, picked him up by the armpits and drug him into the back of her SUV. He was about the same height as she was, and she got him into the car with only a little struggle. He lay awkwardly on top of her empty grocery bags. She scooted her emergency kit under his head in case he suddenly awakened and needed neck support.

At home, she walked him like a life-sized doll up to her front door. She stood him on her porch and went back to shut the SUV hatch. A long rip crept up the side of her nylons. One of her neighbors walked by with a dog.

“Who’s your friend?” the neighbor asked.

Lisa hesitated.

“Tony, from Accounting.”

“Kind of cute.”

The neighbor opened her mailbox and turned away. Her dog growled.

“Wait,” Lisa said, and the neighbor turned to her. “You don’t … you don’t notice anything odd about him?”

The neighbor waved her away.

“No one’s perfect. Just have fun.”

Lisa placed him in her living room, then sat on the couch and stared. Nothing had changed except that his clothes were disheveled from the trip home. In his current position, he seemed to stare at the pile of mail on her coffee table.

“Well,” she said, “Tony, from Accounting. You want a drink?”

He didn’t answer, of course.

“I’m going to have a drink.”

She poured herself a glass of red wine and sat on the couch, still dressed in her skirt and button-up blouse, her shoes on the floor. She sipped the wine and stared at the man. Had his skin changed? He seemed darker now. No, it was just the light. The dull orange of her floor lamp cast tall shadows around the room, turning her small bookshelf into a tower, her wine glass into a purple stain. Tony’s shadow stretched up the wall and bent onto the ceiling, and she got the sense that his shadow eyes were watching her even while his real eyes stared down at the coffee table. She took another drink.

“Tony, from Accounting, I’m Lisa, from Human Resources. I suppose I should have introduced myself before kidnapping you. You’ll be much safer here than in that parking lot, though.”

She let out a sharp burst of laughter.

“Can you hear me, Tony? Are you in there? Have you been watching and listening this whole time?”

She drank the last of her wine and straightened her skirt.

“I hope not. I mean, I hope so. I mean, I want you to be okay, but, well, I don’t want you to judge me, is all. I don’t normally bring strange men into my house.”

She went into the kitchen for a second glass of wine and drank half of it before she got back to the living room. She stood in front of the man, squinted and investigated his face.

“How did you get this way?”

She took another sip, then set the wine glass on the coffee table.

“And why doesn’t anyone else notice?” She looked at his lips, slightly parted. “My neighbor was right, though. You are kind of cute, Tony from Accounting.” She shook her hair flirtatiously. “Could this be a Sleeping Beauty kind of thing? I kiss you and you wake up and sweep me away?”

She slid her hands on either side of his face. His head wouldn’t move, so she hunched down, tilted her neck and found his lips from underneath. When she backed away, the motionless man had a smear of red lipstick across his mouth.

“Oh well,” she said, “I won’t tell anyone. It can be our secret.”

She woke up embarrassed, hoping the whole thing had been a bizarre dream, but no, there he was, standing in the living room in the same static position. She walked out in her night clothes and stared at him for a moment, then quickly dressed and left. The morning sunlight worsened her slight wine hangover. She skipped breakfast.

At work she took a mid-morning break and walked over to Accounting.

“Does someone named Tony work here?” she asked the woman at the front desk.

The woman pushed her glasses up her nose and squinted at Lisa as if she weren’t quite sure she was there.

“He’s on vacation,” she said.

Lisa took the long way home, driving through side streets rather than the clogged highway. She considered not going home at all. She could keep driving. Keep moving.

At a stoplight, she rested her head against the car window, seat belt pressing against her cheek. She looked at the traffic swishing past. In the median, amongst the motion, was stillness. A woman, standing motionless, her head turned to the side as if watching for the traffic to slow before crossing the street. She was as still as Tony.

The stoplight changed and Lisa didn’t drive. She opened the car door and stepped out. Other cars honked. She flipped them off. Lisa approached the woman, hoping she would turn her head and walk away. She didn’t. Lisa opened the back of her SUV, awkwardly walked the woman over to her car and stuffed her in. Cars swooped around her. No one stopped.

She looked at Tony and the new woman, standing side by side in the living room. She stood up, shook her arms to make sure she still could, and went to bed, leaving the two statues in the living room.

There were no news reports. No warnings from the medical community. Not even a viral video. And yet in the next week, Lisa’s statue garden grew. A teenage girl with bright red lipstick and an imitation designer purse. An old man so bent at the waist that it was difficult to stand him upright again once she’d moved him. A couple holding hands in the lobby of a restaurant. They were the most difficult to move, but when she did maneuver them out of the restaurant, the hostess simply thanked her for coming in and wished her a good weekend. She gathered them all in her living room, a silent, motionless party. They filled the room now so that she could barely negotiate between them.

She stood on the coffee table to survey her collection. She pressed her ear to their chests and heard their heartbeats. Slow. Almost nonexistent, but there.

It had been a week and a half since she brought Tony home, but nothing had changed. He hadn’t starved or withered. None of them had.

“You’ll outlive me, won’t you?” she said to the crowd.

She looked up at the wall, the bodies blending together in shadow, creating a landscape of overlapping heads. She thought she saw subtle motion amongst the shadow heads, slight swaying of the shadow arms. She watched them for far too long, until she felt like she had to move or she would never move again. She shuddered, letting the vibration of the shudder sweep through every cell of her body.

It was enough, she decided.

She drug each of them one by one to her car and piled them on top of each other. Her neighbor waved from the kitchen window as she pushed the teenager into the passenger seat. She drove out of the city, to a place where trees blocked the moonlight and her headlights broke the darkness in a small window. She pulled onto a dirt road and stopped.

She pulled the statues out of her car and left them lined up side by side in a sloping ditch. None moved to protest. Tony, from Accounting, seemed to stare at a broken twig. He still wore the smudge of lipstick. Without looking back, she drove away, leaving them there.

On the outskirts of the city, Lisa stopped to get gas. A man stood motionless at the next pump, but she refused to look at him. She finished pumping her gas and drove home. Her living room was empty, but the wall was still full of shadows, slightly moving, reaching out to her with shapeless arms.

Sarena Ulibarri is currently pursuing her MFA at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she is also on the staff of Timber Journal. Her fiction has recently appeared in Lightspeed, The Coachella Review, Monkeybicycle and elsewhere.